Updated: Feb 19, 2019
First post on mental health. Before I begin please know that I am in no way an expert on the subject nor is what I’m about to share true for everyone. If you are struggling with a mental health issue please please don’t be afraid to ask for help (from a real professional!).
The first time I had a panic attack I felt like a was dying. I couldn’t breathe, my vision started to go black, there was an intense ringing in my ears. All of my senses just gave out and for a minute there was complete nothingness - for lack of a better explanation, I blacked out. At first I thought that I hadn’t eaten enough that day, or maybe I locked my knees for too long, or forgot to breathe? But it happened again, and again. The best way I can describe my anxiety is heavy. My heart always beats just a little too fast, the words “call me” or “can we talk” in a text message make my stomach churn, and and even the thought of losing the little control I have over my mind is enough to make me not want to get out of bed in the morning. Something is always wrong or about to go wrong. It’s replaying conversations in your head over and over when you can’t sleep. There’s simply no such thing as peace. Moments maybe.. when I’m wrapped in the arms of someone I love, or when I’m sitting with my eyes closed face tilted up at the sun, or playing with a puppy because duh. But true peace, I’ve never known it.
When I tell you that I’ve been dealing with mental health issues my whole life, I mean therapy sessions and medication since before I was even a teenager. Then, I didn’t know how to control it and I couldn’t possibly know what triggered it, but now that I’m an adult I’m learning more about myself every day.
Some triggers for me are driving around pedestrians (don’t ask), insecurity in a relationship, stress at work, the news (literally everything about it because it’s a bad bad world), and yes SOCIAL MEDIA. Pathetic, I know. But here we are at all times connected through our phones to what’s happening half way across the world, comparing ourselves to every human being we’ve ever met, and wondering if people like us. Read that again. Wondering if people LIKE us. Who the hell cares?!
That’s what we should say, but that isn’t our reality. So how do you cope?
Honestly, I’m still learning. Some daily routines can help. Exercising, for example, eating healthy, and taking supplements shown to “calm” the nerves. But some days these just aren’t enough. About 2 years ago, I went to the doctor to get help finally after having stayed away for many years. I’m telling you this because there is so much stigma around seeking out medical help for mental health and I hope that by sharing my experience you’ll feel better about your own decision to get help, and know that you are not alone. The solution for me was an in-case of emergencies, mild sedative. I tried it, and I hated it. If you know me you know that I don’t like feeling not myself, this includes drinking too much or taking recreational drugs, it’s just never been my thing. Feeling less in control makes my anxiety worse, so I stay away from anything that could alter my mood. So here I am years later and I’ve only taken my “medicine” a handful of times, yet it’s always there, every day at the bottom of my purse just in case. The point of this story is that I truly believe just having the medicine on me at all times is enough to ensure that I don’t need it. Placebo effect. Mind over matter. Whatever you want to call it, 9/10 times it works.
Still, the panic attacks come, and I cry and scream, and beg for someone to put me out of my misery. But then I breathe. In and out, in and out, in and out. And I’m alive, and I can open my eyes, and I’m still here. And in those moments I feel the strongest. I cheated death (not really, but in my mind), I conquered the demons, I overcame the fear and the guilt and the terrible feelings inside. Mental illness makes you STRONG, not weak. The people who wake up every day scared or sad or helpless, but get out of bed and go to work anyway are the strongest of all.
I hide my anxiety well, for the most part. The only people who get to see it are the ones I love and trust. And even then, sometimes it scares them away. That used to make me sad - the thought that this part of me might prevent me from having a normal relationship. But let me tell you that the right person for you and the right friends for you will stick by you even when they don’t know what to do, they will hold you while you’re crying uncontrollably, they will pick you up off the floor and drive you to get ice cream. Never apologize for who you are, and never let someone make you feel weak. On the days when you think you can’t go on, or that you’ll never measure up, or find the light at the end of the tunnel; get up, do your makeup, get dressed, and do it anyway. And at the end of the day, revel in the fact that YOU did that for yourself. Not for mom or dad, not for your boyfriend or girlfriend, not for your boss at work, but for you. You just proved to yourself that you can go on. You just did it and you’ll do it again. And when the panic does come, you know it won’t last forever. Panic and fear are like stars, when it gets dark sometimes it’s all you can see, but eventually the sun comes up and you wonder how you ever saw them at all.